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Three-Year Medical School? All About Accelerated Medical School Programs

The cost of attending medical school, and other health professional programs, has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, while at the same time, healthcare workforce shortages have increased. The accompanying rise in student debt, and the impacts on student career choices due to that debt, have spurred schools to consider options to reduce costs and speed needed healthcare providers into the workforce. One approach is accelerated medical school programs, which consolidate the typical four-year health professional school curriculum into three years.

Creating a Shorter Pathway

Accelerating the timeline to complete a health professional degree is not a new concept. Two Canadian medical schools have three-year programs that are “decades old.” Likewise, many European medical schools allow students to enter programs directly from high school and skip an undergraduate degree when becoming a physician.

Interest in a faster track to new physicians has been growing as shortages have become increasingly dire. In 2015, eight medical schools joined the Consortium of Accelerated Medical Pathway Programs (CAMPP), using funding from a grant from the Macy Foundation to NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Dr. Grossman, Dean of NYU Grossman School of Medicine and CEO of NYU Langone Health, said, “Taking one year out of medical school and moving students along was important both in terms of the time frame and also in terms of saving a year of tuition and expenses.”

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Since that start, over 30 schools have joined CAMPP. While the accelerated programs differ, all of the programs have the two-fold aim of reducing student debt and addressing nationwide physician shortages. The consortium works together to study critical aspects of shorter medical school programs, including regulatory issues associated with state licensing.

In addition to the allopathic medical schools developing shortened programs, several osteopathic schools offer three-year programs. The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine started the Primary Care Scholars Pathway and the Accelerated Physician Assistant Pathway (for physician assistants who want to become physicians) programs that shorten the training required to earn a DO degree. A similar three-year pathway was established as the Transformative Care Curriculum at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic.

What are Accelerated Programs Like?

These programs select students who have expressed a dedication to specific specialties served by the three-year tracks. In many cases, students in the accelerated pathways can directly progress to residency programs linked with their medical school. The specialties available in the three-year tracks vary by institution. At NYU Grossman, students can choose from 21 available specialties, including surgical sub-specialties such as Otolaryngology and Urology. At UC Davis, in contrast, only general Internal Medicine and Family Medicine are available options, though they are also looking to expand the program to Pediatrics and Psychiatry.

Students in these tracks receive more focused attention and mentoring to ensure their success. One key benefit of these programs is a reduction in student debt. Medical student debt has increased 20% since 2009 to over $200,000 for average medical students. For programs with direct progression into residency, students also avoid the cost and stress of residency applications. 

Accelerated pathway students report no increase in burnout and have similar or better academic and clinical performance as their four-year peers. As more residency program directors acknowledge the students’ readiness and assess the value of graduates from the three-year tracks, other medical schools are considering forming similar programs.

How Can I Take an Accelerated Pathway?

If you are a student who will matriculate in 2023, becoming part of the CAMPP-affiliated accelerated tracks is an option once you have committed to enroll in your medical school. Incoming students may learn about these opportunities in detail as part of admitted student events. Students are encouraged to connect with the program directors to find out what additional eligibility requirements exist and how to begin participating once medical school begins.  

For pre-meds, if you are interested in these tracks, speak with the admissions staff at your target programs and review the medical school websites carefully. Your interest provides a great answer to the typical interview and secondary question, “why our school?”

Depending on the program, your choice of specialty may be significantly limited, so these programs generally are best suited for students who have a strong passion for primary care or other specialties covered by the program. 

Other Shortened Health Professional Programs

In addition to medicine, other health professions also offer three-year programs. Dentistry has several three-year program opportunities: Dugoni/University of the Pacific School of Dental Medicine and, beginning in 2023, Roseman University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine. The University of Arizona offers a three-year Veterinary Medicine program as well.  

References

  1. “Three-year medical school programs are growing. Here’s why”, Joan Cangiarella, MD, October 14, 2021, Accessed September 22, 2022. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/three-year-medical-school-programs-are-growing-here-s-why
  2. “The Crossover with Dr. Rick Komotar: Dean Robert I. Grossman, MD, Discusses the Future of Medical Education”, August 8, 2022, Accessed September 22, 2022. https://nyulangone.org/news/crossover-dr-rick-komotar-dean-robert-i-grossman-md-discusses-future-medical-education
  3. “Physician Education Debt and the Cost to Attend Medical School, 2020 Update”, AAMC, October 2020, Accessed September 22, 2022. https://store.aamc.org/downloadable/download/sample/sample_id/368/

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